Delray Beach and Boca Raton Real Estate and Homes for Sale

Watch as Jeff and Dave, the founders of YourDelrayBoca.com, give you their take on the local real estate market:

There is no more dynamic real estate market in the U.S. than Boca-Delray.

From oceanfront mansions and historic homes to picturesque country clubs and subdivisions the market is vibrant, the choices are endless and the neighborhoods varied depending on age range, price and taste. The area features everything from old Florida to the most modern downtown condo’s and townhomes.

You are sure to find exactly what you want in these two world-class cities.

Buying or selling in the Delray-Boca area and need a recommendation? We can help. Learn more here.

It’s Better (Or Is It The Same) In The Bahamas

Bay Street

 

A few years back, a small contingent of civic leaders from Palm Beach County were invited to Nassau, Bahamas to advise the government on how to revitalize their main drag, Bay Street.

The trip was organized by the U.S. Embassy which was manned back then by Ambassador Ned Siegel, a Boca resident who was appointed to his post by President George W. Bush.

I was invited along with former Mayor Tom Lynch, Boca Chamber President Troy McCllellan and Kelly Smallridge, the President and CEO of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.

The trip was truly a first class adventure and Ambassador Siegel introduced us to top government ministers and prominent business leaders. We later invited many of those people to Palm Beach County where they toured West Palm Beach, Boca Raton and Delray Beach so we could show them how theory met practice when it comes to revitalizing downtowns.

I was reminded of that trip last week when I walked Bay Street with my wife as part of a cruise to The Bahamas.

Nassau is picturesque and enjoys wonderful weather. There are some great old buildings enhanced by vibrant colors and a scale that is reminiscent of Delray.

In fact, there are a lot of historical ties between Delray and The Bahamas. Some of the earliest settlers in our town were from The Bahamas. I was especially intrigued by the Pompey Museum of Slavery.

C. Spencer Pompey and his wife H. Ruth Pompey are dear old friends and local legends. I’m pretty sure there is a connection between the museum and the Pompey’s of Delray. Sadly, Mr. and Mrs. Pompey have passed so I can’t ask them but I plan to delve into the history to satisfy my curiosity.

When we were invited to share ideas and best practices with The Bahamian government about a decade or so ago, Bay Street was struggling with crime issues, vacancy in certain sections, an underutilized waterfront and stiff competition from the Atlantis resort which was sucking tourists off the cruise ships out of the downtown and into the casino and water parks.

Walking around Bay Street last week I saw the same issues—only now there is another mega resort to worry about: Bahia Mar.

Sure the streets were crowded on a warm Sunday but it didn’t appear that many people were shopping. The retail mix is heavy on t-shirts, perfume, duty free alcohol and jewelry—not surprising given the heavy influx of tourists.

Bay Street could use more food options—and while I didn’t feel unsafe (despite warnings from the cruise line about crime) the level and intensity of solicitors was a turn off. You were just assailed from the moment you get off the boat to the moment you get back on. Yuck….

Years ago we recommended that Nassau turn up the Bahamian charm—for example increase security but outfit police in traditional uniforms and activate the waterfront by incentivizing restaurants and cafes to balance the multitude of t-shirt shops. Granted these aren’t “genius” ideas and I can’t remember the rest but the exercise was fun and we made a lot of friends as a result.

That I didn’t see a whole lot of change on Bay Street is indicative of how hard transformation is to achieve.

When I think of Delray’s transformation I feel the same way. It takes a whole lot of hard work, dedication, investment and some gutsy decisions to make change—and a fair amount of good fortune too. It helps to catch a break or two along the way, but by the same token change doesn’t happen by accident. It happens via intention.

Recently, I ran into some consultants who worked on our downtown master plan way back in 2001.

The efforts our community made over the years were rewarded with awards which are nice….but not as important as the opportunity and value that were created.

Now I get that not everybody was pleased with the results. And they are entitled to their opinions and we are compelled to respect those views.

Yet, I can’t help but think that sometimes we go overboard with our angst. The consultant mentioned to me that “Delray is so hard on itself” and that statement struck me. It rang true.

Just take a cruise through social media to see for yourself—ugh… all the negativity.

Criticism that isn’t constructive isn’t valuable at all. It doesn’t feel like affection it feels like anger.

Accountability is necessary and important, but it’s best when it’s rooted in love and empathy.

As we head into the holiday season, I hope we see more love and less anger. More constructive guidance and empathy and less vitriol and blame.

Root your community in those values, observe the guardrails and be patient. The magic will happen.

 

 

 

Amazon & Main Street

Is Amazon gunning for Main Street?

So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about Amazon.com.

The e-commerce giant has been all over the news lately finally naming two winners to share the spoils of its H2 Headquarters quest and dominating Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.

I’ve long wondered about the pros and cons of incentives but my reading about the deal and Amazon’s business model led me to wonder and worry.

What are we doing?
Is Amazon growing too big for our own good?

Has Jeff Bezos created a monster that taxpayers in Virginia and New York are subsidizing?

What does this mean for Main Street?

Then I read an interview with Starwood Group CEO Barry Sternlicht on Bisnow Media and my gravest concerns were verified.

Here’s a quote that ought to make us think.

“I was super disappointed in the cities they chose. Neither city needed them. And the fact that New York is in an opportunity zone and they got $5.5B of credits for the $5B of investment. I’m not a fan of the gifts. I mean, really? Amazon, a $1 trillion company doesn’t have the resources to build a plant? They need inducements? A $1 trillion company. And by the way, Amazon’s job these days is to put most everyone else out of business. So you’re facilitating that. Mom and dad can’t get a $5B tax break to expand their dry cleaners.

 

If you’re Amazon and you want to be a responsible corporate citizen just say, ‘No. We can do this on our own. We’re big boys. We’re worth $1 trillion. We’ll build these plants on our own.’ Why not go to a city like Atlanta or Miami, and why pick some place that doesn’t really need you? And those are congested cities, particularly New York, and the fact that it’s in an opportunity zone so they’ll never pay taxes on the building and land. I find it abhorrent. I think it’s just awful. It’s like a free headquarters. Why doesn’t somebody give me a free headquarters?”

Here’s another one that ought to give you pause or maybe hives.

“Amazon was fine when they helped little businesses survive, now they’re actually going after little businesses. And that’s not healthy for this country. You’re creating a monster. Now you’re funding the monster to destroy mom and dad’s businesses. That ain’t a good deal.”

The coup d’grace was Sternlicht’s next set of sentences:

“The endgame for Amazon is to wipe out the main streets of America. Maybe if the consumer is so busy he’s OK with that. But I can assure you they don’t know the consequences of what they’re doing. Those commercial businesses along main street pay the real estate taxes that fund schools and if they go away, and most assuredly they are going away, then taxes on individual homes will have to go up to pay for the support system.

 

I don’t think the average person spends a lot of time thinking about that. It’s really convenient to have them deliver a bicycle pump to your house that costs $20 for free in an hour. By the way, that’s predatory pricing. In the industrial commodity complex if you sell aluminum below the cost of consumption of aluminum, it’s called dumping and it’s illegal. They’ve been allowed to get away with that forever. They’ve lost more money in shipping than they made in the margins on the goods that they were selling. That’s predatory pricing and they were never called out on it. In my view, what they’re doing is illegal, and it crushed mom and dad. How can you compete with that?

 

The endgame where the consumer will get really crushed is when my little store that I used to go to buy my pump is out of business and Amazon will charge me $80 for a pump and $200 to have it delivered. The government put restrictions on the sale of vaping for teens. That’s the government looking to the future and saying it’s not good for teenagers. The government could look to the future and say, ‘You’re going to destroy America as we know it today, and we can’t let that happen.’”

Wow….

In the interest of full disclosure, I buy frequently from Amazon. Like everyone else, I enjoy the convenience, the vast selection and the ability to shop prices. Companies that I work with do lots of business on the Amazon platform and it has added to their bottom lines and our ability to access consumers throughout America.

But I do worry about what all of this is doing to Main Street. In Delray, we have an interesting dynamic, high real estate values which lead to high rents and a shifting landscape which makes it hard for independent retailers to survive. These conditions lead to vacancy, which isn’t good for a Main Street.

But I also don’t think it makes any sense to long for the good old days or wish that technology is going to retreat. It’s not.

Retail—at least as we knew it– is over or at the very least highly challenged.

Sure there will be stores, but successful retailers will have to carve out a very distinct niche, learn to be “experiential,” employ a digital strategy and or exist in high traffic areas. It’s possible to succeed, just not easy or obvious anymore. And frankly—as the son of a retailer—it never was easy.

Still, while it seems counterproductive to wish away the likes of Amazon, there are some big issues that we need to talk about as a society.

If retail fails or shrinks considerably (and that’s what’s happening), it will have an impact on sales and property taxes which fuel local government.

Real estate on and off Main Street will have to be rethought and reinvented.

There’s peril and opportunity in change, the challenge for leaders and communities is to make you maximize opportunity and hedge against peril.

P.S. the next article I read on Bisnow was an interview with Jorge Perez, CEO of Related Companies. It was on sea level rise and included this quote: “Sea level rise is something that is going to hit us all.”

Yes it is…and that’s a thought for another day. We sure do live in interesting times.

 

 

Keep Your Amazon Headquarters; Build Your Own Ecosystem

NY is paying $61,000 per job and Virginia is shelling out $796mm in tax incentives to land Amazon’s second headquarters.

I saw an article in the Tampa Bay Business Journal recently that caught my eye.

The headline was a show stopper for those of us who care about economic development and the use of public dollars: “Incentives are becoming less important than workforce.”

Which is another way of saying that today—maybe more than ever—talent rules. And the cities and regions that develop, nurture and attract talent will be the cities that win.

The Business Journal’s headline may sound funny in the midst of perhaps the biggest incentive gusher ever which was the pursuit of Amazon’s H2 headquarters and its promise of 50,000 jobs and billions in economic impact. Congratulations to our friends in Crystal City and Long Island City: the two winners of the Amazon sweepstakes who will split the prize.

But even amidst the gaggle of mayors who threw incentives Amazon’s way, the smart guess was that Amazon would choose a headquarters where executives believe they can hire from a deep pool of talent. Northern Virginia and New York City are both regions rich in tech talent.

But also playing into the decision was Amazon’s desire to be in a city or region where today’s and tomorrow’s workers will want to live.

I’m a passionate student of economic development and it’s endlessly fascinating to me how cities and regions work or don’t work.

I think the most successful places practice economic “gardening” which is an effort to grow your own companies rather than throw money chasing corporations that oftentimes take advantage of cities by threatening to leave if you don’t ante up.

If you grow your own and create an environment where companies would be foolish to leave, you won’t to have worry that someone else will steal your jobs by waving checks at CEOs.

So how do you create an environment conducive to economic gardening and how do you keep the garden healthy and sustainable?

I like the analogy of threads—you have to knit a fabric and build a community by adding to– not tearing at –the fabric of your city.

Threads include: good schools, a good support network for parents, strong and safe neighborhoods, a clean environment, great parks, recreational opportunities, a range of housing options, good transportation networks, strong and ethical governance, business friendly regulations, a people friendly or tolerant atmosphere, abundant art and culture, a sense of place, efficient and competent local government, great health care and the list goes on.

If you build a strong fabric and create a place that is brimming with opportunities– both economic and social—over time you will create a dynamic and sustainable environment that generates jobs by keeping and attracting talent.

Consequently, if you tear at the fabric by pulling threads, chasing away investment, making it hard to get established and hard to get rooted you will send a message to go elsewhere. In those types of places we send a clear message. We are essentially telling our children that ‘yes we raised you here, but there’s nothing for you here so go elsewhere as soon as you can.’

And we will tell outsiders that their investments are better spent elsewhere.

Growth and change are hot topics around these parts. Recently, the South Florida Business Journal reported that there was $950 million of projects underway in downtown Delray Beach. That’s both a source of angst and pride and I can understand both feelings.

Growth and change can be hard to swallow, especially if it swallows up what we like best about our towns. But growth and change are also inevitable. The best communities find a way to shape and manage growth and change.

The best cities also focus on the opportunities that growth and change can provide: they maximize benefits hopefully for as many people as possible, while minimizing impacts.

They talk through the tough issues, raise the level of discourse and do their best to build for the future.

In many ways, we are all stewards. We are here to leave a better place for those who come next. If we adopt a mindset that we need to be concerned about not only our quality of life but also that of others, we have a chance to create something good. But if we have an “I’m in the boat, pull up the ladder” mentality we ensure that the future either drowns or heads elsewhere and that the boat we’re in will sink.

It’s better to swim than it is to sink.

 

October Musings & Memories

Happy Halloween!
October loves

Lunch at the Cuban Cafe with two leaders I admire: Pastor Bill Mitchell and Karen Granger of 4 Kids.
Pastor Mitchell produces the terrific Boca Lead series which in October featured the incredible work of Simon Sinek. If you want to be a better leader this is the community to explore.
Taking the dogs to Lake Ida Park in the evening when it is finally cool and there’s the hint of a breeze. The best part of the year is nearly here.
Fresh Kitchen and Bolay–both in Boca are terrific.
So good. Every time.
The recently remodeled Delray Elks Club looks great. Terrific job and some really nice people are members.
Bagels With and Bagels with a Schmear are also so darn good…oy the carbs…
Delray Beach author and poet Letit Flose is making some noise.
Her original poem, “It’s We,” has been selected to appear in A Garden Of Black Joy: Global Poetry From The Edges of Liberation & Living! 
 
They received poems from all over the world – from Cape Town South Africa to New Orleans to Berlin, Germany and rigorously selected 114 poems to be included in this year’s anthology.
Very impressive. Amazon has her two books of poetry. Highly recommend both.
Deepest condolences to the Walsh family on the loss of Tom Walsh, patriarch of the family that founded and runs Ocean Properties.
OPL has significant holdings in Delray including the Delray Marriott and Residence Inn.
The company has properties throughout North America.
Delray’s own Tre’ Quan Smith was on the receiving end of the historic pass from New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees that set the new record for career passing yards.
Brees has now passed for nearly 41 miles—astounding.
We’ve written about Tre’ Quan before. His involvement with Delray Students First, now College Bound, his attending Village Academy etc.
His NFL career is off to a stellar start.
Here’s what future Hall of Famer Brees had to say about his rookie teammate.
“Tre’ Quan stepped in and did a magnificent job. Credit to him for the way he has come along here in his rookie season. Really made a ton of progress each and every week, especially the last couple weeks this kid can really be a big part of our offense.”
That’s high praise from an NFL legend. Wow!
We lost two other local icons/contributors in October.
Detective Kenny Herndon passed away and it was gratifying to see an outpouring of love and support on social media from an array of retired Delray police officers. He was very special.
Bob Miller, a long time leader in the city’s business and sports community also passed in October.
Miller Field is named after Bob who did a lot for Atlantic High School sports and Little League baseball. He was a long time leader at the Chamber of Commerce and ran a very successful State Farm Insurance agency on Federal Highway for decades. Just a great guy.
Both Mr. Miller and Sgt. Herndon will be missed.
I wanted to share a tribute to Mr. Miller written by Bill Wood, our former chamber president and another amazing guy. Bill shared this on Facebook so I don’t think he will mind if I share these wonderful sentiments.
“Over the last several decades Delray Beach has been blessed with an amazing group of remarkable men and women who provided wisdom and guidance to the development of our city.
Sadly we just lost one of those remarkable leaders…
Bob Miller.  Bob passed away this October and even though we have not talked in years I already miss him and his stories of growing up in Delray Beach.
Hopefully there are biographies popping up on Facebook about Bob’s life  that will outline his many contributions to our city.
In simple words Bob was (among other things) a husband, father, teacher, coach, fisherman, businessman (over 40 years) and leader in the community… there is a reason for the name “Bob Miller Little League Park”.
The people who helped make Delray an outstanding community were not all Mayors or City Commissioners… most were residents, business folks, remarkable individuals who loved our city, believed in it and wanted to make it better…
The Chamber of Commerce recently held one of it’s Leadership Programs featuring several of our past Delray Beach Mayors.  Jeff Perlman (a former Mayor), in the most recent installment of ‘Your Delray Boca’ wrote about that and towards the end of his blog Jeff said this… “We need people with passion, a love for the town, humility, emotional intelligence, strength, foresight and courage to step up and lead.”
We do need people with those attributes but… we have been blessed by having former leaders, like Bob Miller, who had the passion, the love, humility, intelligence, strength, foresight, and courage to be a leader in our great community over a long period of time.
I am so grateful for remarkable men (and women) like Bob Miller who collectively made Delray Beach – as the Chamber saying goes – a great place to live, work, and play.”
Other highlights: an evening at the Elks (congratulations on their award from the Chamber).
We discovered Prosper Ice Cream on Congress Avenue. Magnificent.
And we also enjoyed some great pizza with a stagiano salad at Renzo’s. Highly recommended.
If you can don’t miss “The Old Man And The Gun” Robert Redford’s farewell to acting. He’s terrific, as he always is and so is Sissy Spacek. Two old pro’s who transcend the screen. It’s worth a visit to the theatre.

Things We Loved in September

Paul Simon: Still crazy (and now retired from touring) after all these years.

September loves

Seeing Paul Simon’s farewell tour at the BB&T.

Artists like Paul Simon are rare…poets, musicians, whose words and music define our culture and leave an indelible mark. We felt privileged to be there. He played all the classics and some of the new gems too.

Happy hour at Senor Burrito and running into the wonderful Trish Jacobson.

Boca Lead’s new season with the amazing Pastor Mitchell. The topic: “Difficult Conversations” in front of a record crowd. Amazing program. Check it out. I’m beginning October by having lunch with the Pastor and another one of my favorites: Karen Granger.

Seeing the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary and Juliet, Naked at Cinemark Boca.

Meeting the wonderful team at 4 Kids a great job-profit that’s coming to Delray. They already serve our kids now they will have a physical presence at The Arbors in Delray.

Lunch and laughter at Papas Tapas  with Ingrid Kennemer and Scott Porten. Very few know the Delray commercial real estate market as well as Ingrid.

The start of a new NFL season at Duffy’s with my best bud Scott Savodnik and Jason Spaide.

Seeing all of the Delray ATP stars excel at the US open. Marin Cilic, Juan Martin Del Potro (finalist), Kei Nishikori, one Bryan Brother and Frances Tiafoe all had great opens.
But the highlight was Delray’s own Coco Gauff winning the girls doubles title with Catherine McNally.

Breakfast at Boca’s venerable Tom Sawyer with a long time friend Sharon Patterson.

Lunch with some Delray greats at Cabana El Rey…

Viewing the “sizzle” reel for a new TV show featuring my friend Eric Roby, former Channel 12 anchor. Stay tuned, I think Eric’s got a winner.

Eating lunch at the bar of Madison’s in Boca. Great all day happy hour menu check it out.

David Byrne at the Fillmore. Wonderful show. Unique artist. While in South Beach check out Cibo and if you can make it a weekend we recommend a stay at the Marriott Stanton.

Sardinia Ristorante is a gem. Fresh mozzarella, a great bar, attentive service and unique food. A great addition.

The Abe and Louie Salad—hard to beat.

Jessica Del Vecchio, Boca’s economic development director is a great asset for her city. It’s a pleasure to partner with her as part of the Boca Newspaper.

Have a wonderful October!

Greetings From Asbury Park

The boardwalk in Asbury Park, N.J.

I’ve always wanted to go to Asbury Park.

So last week we made the trip.

We loved it.

As we toured Belmar, Ocean Grove, Asbury, Allenhurst, Freehold, Neptune and Colts Neck one thought was top of mind: New Jersey might have the world’s worst PR, because the reality far, far, far outstrips the perception.

New Jersey is breathtakingly beautiful (that’s right)  with a magnificent coast, incredible neighborhoods, vibrant cities and architecture that makes you pull over and stare.

Asbury Park has always held a place in my heart and  imagination thanks to its association with my musical heroes Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.

I’ve read a few books about the boom and bust history of Asbury Park and the musicians who helped to put the place on the map.

So I was curious to explore the tiny (1.5 square miles) city.

Asbury has a pretty boardwalk, a beautiful beach, some amazing seaside bars, wonderful architecture, a hip hotel, a really nice downtown and some terrific restaurants.

But what sets it apart is its vibe.

Asbury Park is a town that seems to be built on rock n’ roll.

From rock photographer Danny Clinch’s “Transparent Gallery” and the Sound Booth lounge at the Asbury Hotel to the live music at Asbury Lanes and the renowned Wonder Bar—music is everywhere.

This weekend, Asbury expects 20,000 people for the first Sea. Hear. Now. music festival with big names like Social Distortion and Brandi Carlile coming to town to rock the shore.

Asbury is a town building on its roots—its glory days as evidenced by the Paramount Theatre and a grand boardwalk and a musical heritage which includes Springsteen, Southside Johnny and so many great bar bands.

Off the boardwalk, we found a nice downtown, especially Cookman Avenue which featured some interesting retail (a bookstore!, an adorable cinema and a tea house featuring cats—yes cats—called Catsbury Park) and some amazing restaurants. (If you visit, run don’t walk to Taka, it’s as good as it gets).

The surrounding towns feature block after block of really beautiful homes, Victorian gems that make you realize that Florida missed a golden opportunity by allowing so much cookie cutter housing to be built.

When visiting a place it’s important to consider its history and to see what’s in front of you. But it’s also important to understand its psychology, what drives a place. It’s critical to understand not only the reality but what the aspirations of a place are.

You can do this by observing who’s in town—what kinds of people do you see buying homes, opening businesses and investing in a place.

You can supplement what you see with a little reading—local newspapers, real estate publications, even what the hotels are saying about the town in their marketing materials.

And that’s where Asbury gets really interesting.

This little city with a rich history and a very cool present has aspirations.

Asbury is an ambitious place with a goal of becoming a nationally renowned cultural mecca built around music, art, festivals, great restaurants and a sense of place. Sound familiar?

The local press celebrates this ambition with profiles of entrepreneurs building web businesses, opening bakeries, planning music festivals, opening unique restaurants and creating boutique accommodations that pay homage to the area’s history and vibe.

One of the urban pioneers that seems to loom large is famed rock photographer Danny Clinch who has a very cool gallery attached to the ultra-hip Asbury Hotel. Clinch is arguably the most acclaimed music photographer around these days. He has chosen Asbury Park to not only show off his incredible portfolio but also to grow the city’s cultural brand.

The Sea. Hear. Now. festival is probably the most ambitious attempt so far. But the gallery itself is more than just a gallery. It’s a live music space where the local creative community can meet, grow and find encouragement and an outlet.

In many ways, I saw some parallels between Asbury Park and Delray Beach circa 1980s through early 2000s.

The emphasis on culture, food, beverage, festivals, tourism, entrepreneurship. The aspiration and hunger to fix and invest in neighborhoods and commercial districts. The willingness to take some risks. The presence of visionary pioneers with dreams and ambitions. The passion to make something happen.

I can’t comment on the politics of Asbury. But the truth is you need both the private sector and the public sector rowing in the same direction to make change and realize ambitions. It doesn’t work if volunteers, business owners and residents are out of step with local government or vice versa.

Towns need their Danny Clinch’s for sure. But they also need their elected officials and city government’s help too.

 

 

 

 

Homeward Bound

Beautiful Port Jefferson, N.Y.

This is a hyperlocal blog focused primarily on Delray Beach and Boca Raton.
But we also focus on cities, leadership, entrepreneurship and the general notion of community; what it means and how to build it.

So in the spirit of exploration I wanted to share with you some thoughts after a recent and all too brief trip “home” to the Port Jefferson/Setauket/Stony Brook area.
It’s where I grew up on eastern Long Island after being born and spending a few years in Queens.

It’s a beautiful area, magical in so many ways.

The older areas are truly historic with buildings dating to the late 1690s and early 1700s.
The area played a key role in the Revolutionary War with George Washington’s Setauket spies doing important work to defeat the British. Those days were recently depicted in a TV series and information about the spy ring is written on plaques and available on apps that give an oral history of the area.

We never lived in the historic parts of these towns, although we appreciated the older homes, wooded environments and colonial architecture.

My family and most of my friends lived in Levitt Homes, tract housing developed by the builder who invented suburbia after World War II.

Today, those homes are 50 years old plus and when I drove to see  a few of our old house (we moved around a lot) I could see the age on what was once so new. I enjoyed seeing the mature trees and for the most part the Levitt “sections” –as they were called— have held up well.

They are lovely in their own way and each street is filled with memories of community back when neighbors knew each other and when kids played outside until dark.

It was a magical time and we lived in a magical place. And as I shared with a best friend who grew up there with me, I’m grateful for the time spent here and saddened by the time that has passed.
I’m not sure when I will come back to Stony Brook. But I’m pretty sure that I will.

I feel very connected to the place.

It is and will always be home. The place where I went to school, where I lived with my parents and sister, where my grandparents (long gone but never forgotten) visited and where I met the best friends I’ve ever had and we experienced life’s adventures for the first time.

School days and favorite teachers and first crushes.
Parties and bar mitzvahs.
Little League, pick up basketball, stickball and football.
First cars, first loves, first everything.
Then, one day it ends.

And you go off—as you should– to explore new places, new experiences and new people.
But you never completely leave home and the experiences and the people that shaped you.

These are the people who support you, challenge you, push you and pick you up when you stumble and fall—as we all do.
I felt compelled to come home when I turned 40 and wanted to show a new love where it was that I came from. I thought if she saw the places that accompanied the stories and the personal history that we would grow closer and I think we did. I was also anxious to visit her hometown, Clairton, PA., a hardscrabble kind of place that explains a lot about who she became.

Fourteen years later, almost to the day, I felt compelled to return to my hometown.
I’m not sure why. Maybe its just important to touch —albeit briefly—your roots.
Your roots are what center and ground you.

I guess I needed a dose of home.

Taking A Stroll

Last week, the Florida chapter of the American Planning Association was in West Palm Beach for their annual conference.
Hundreds of urban planners from throughout the state were in attendance to learn from each other and to pick up new ideas that can be tried back home.
West Palm Planner Ana Maria Aponte, a Delray resident, was in charge of hosting a mobile tour of local downtowns and Delray was chosen along with West Palm and Lake Worth.
I was honored and happy to take a bus load of planners on a walking tour.
Below are the notes I made of the points I wanted to make as we walked Atlantic Avenue, Pineapple Grove and the Old School Square Historic Arts District.

1. Public investment first. (In Delray’s case, the public made the initial investments in streetscapes, paver bricks, lighting, culture etc. and the private sector followed with colossal investment.)

2. Flexible zoning. Lenient parking regulations, densities. TCEA. First in state. Facade grants Cra. Rental assistance. (Flexible zoning is important where you are dealing with infill development. A reasonable parking code allowed for restaurants and an exemption from traffic concurrency rules allowed downtown to take shape. Without that “TCEA” there would have been no downtown. Density done right makes it possible for vibrancy to occur, for businesses to survive and makes our streets safer. It’s about design not density.
3. Built around culture, events. Tennis, festivals, Old School Square . (This stuff put us on the map and kept us there. Period. It created value, quality of life and wealth.)
4. We led with food and beverage. (But that was never the end game. Employment was always on the radar.)
5. Emphasis on downtown housing. (So important to support local businesses).
6. Open space preserved.
Citizens created OSS Park. City preserved Vets Park. Worthing Park etc.
7. Expand boundaries of downtown from I-95 to the ocean and two blocks north and south of avenue. We have good bones; a grid system.
U.S. 1 narrowed.  To stop speeding cars from flying past the downtown. So US 1 became a neighborhood instead of a highway.
8. Structured parking added. Land acquisition via Cra.
9. Future challenges.
Affordability: both commercial and residential.
Competition from other cities.
Managing nightlife.
Staying fresh.
Complacency  at the first signs of success when there is so much left to do.
I’m not sure I hit all of the points. We were walking fast, had limited time and I wanted to show them the Arts Garage where Marjorie Waldo graciously interrupted a staff meeting and a birthday party to give us an overview of her amazing facility.
We never did get to Old School Square where I wanted the group to meet Marusca Gatto who has done such a great job with the Cornell Museum.
Next time, for sure.
I like talking and writing about Delray Beach. I like sharing what we’ve learned with others trying to build their cities. I take great pride in the work that so many amazing people did over so many years. And I enjoy discussions of current and future challenges.
Cities are fascinating places. Ever changing. Always evolving. Always providing challenges and opportunities and so full of rich stories.
We are taking a few days off to explore some other cities. The blog will be back in a week or so.
Thanks for reading. Your attention is greatly appreciated.

Success Is Never Final

Downtown Delray wasn’t quite this bad, but it wasn’t too vibrant in the 80s.

I was following an interesting “thread” on social media recently regarding the closing of a retail store on Atlantic Avenue and U.S. 1.

Those commenting were lamenting the closing and the high rents that they blame for pushing out “mom and pop” retailers.

There were a few folks who were concerned that Atlantic Avenue was endangered by what some call “high rent blight”—the phenomenon of vacancies in a hot area caused by landlords asking for very high rents.

There were calls for more promotion of the downtown, rent controls and action from government.

It was a really interesting read.

A short time ago, I read other postings calling for an end to events and for the abolishment of agencies and entities that promote the downtown. Why waste the money, the argument went. Downtown Delray is successful, the job is done.

Well…folks, here’s an adage to remember. Success is never final and therefore your downtown is never “done.”

I moved to Florida 31 years ago this month. And it was a vastly different place.

The 1980s were not kind to downtown Delray Beach. We were not alone. Those were the days when malls and suburban shopping centers ruled the roost. Big box stores such as Walmart were killing main streets across the land.

Downtowns were left for dead and Delray was no exception.

In the mid to late 80s, downtown Delray had a roughly 40 percent vacancy rate, there was very little pedestrian or vehicular traffic, hardly any place to eat and you could have gone bowling at 5 p.m. on Atlantic Avenue without fear of hitting anything. Our brand was “Dull Ray.”

But things change.

Committed citizens, visionary entrepreneurs, bold elected officials and creative city staff began working together to change the fortunes of our downtown. Similar stories, with varying degrees of success, happened across America.

Once downtown Delray began to gain traction, leaders in the community developed a mantra. It went something like this: the downtown will never be ‘done’—it is the heart of the community and you can’t have a healthy community without a healthy heart. Complacency is a killer, we are competing with other cities for investment, residents, businesses and consumer spending and we have to constantly re-invent.

That was the philosophy that I grew up with in this town and one that I adopted when I was given the privilege of serving on the City Commission. I served with an interesting collection of people: Pat Archer, Bob Costin, Fred Fetzer, Bill Schwartz, Jon Levinson, David Schmidt, Brenda Montague, Alberta McCarthy and Rita Ellis. We were very different people—different ages, different religions, different races, different political parties and we had very different life experiences. But we managed to find common ground, even if, especially if, we had heated debate. We’d always find our center or “true north”—which was what we felt was best for the long term good of the city.

We weren’t always right. We didn’t always see with 20/20 vision what was around the bend, but we understood fundamentally that current conditions didn’t necessarily indicate future performance.

So if a part of town was broken, we assumed it could be fixed. And if a part of town was working, we assumed it could break. We knew success would require a commitment. We knew success wasn’t final and that success itself would pose additional challenges (hello traffic and high rents).

Which is why when times are good you don’t declare victory, you keep working and you wake up a little bit scared because you know that complacency is a killer. And when times get tough, you look at your assets—your agencies, your entities, your institutions, your ‘bones’ (as planners like to refer to our grid) and you sharpen them. You ask them to reinvent—to do more, be more, create more, grow and lead.

But if you kill or neglect those institutions, agencies and entities those tools will be gone or damaged. If you declare victory and take your eyes off the prize—well you just might find that you’ve been left in the dust.

Just remember, other cities always have their eyes on your assets.

 

 

Complacency is a Killer

Wynwood Yards—wow!

Recently, Bisnow Media convened a panel devoted to the remarkable rise of Wynwood, a super cool neighborhood in Miami.

The panel consisted of developers, investors and others who have been instrumental in the revitalization of a tired neighborhood into a hip, tourist draw and arts center.

Their conclusion: zoning was the key to the neighborhood’s success.

According to Bisnow: “Fortis Design+Build Managing partner David Polinsky said when Wynwood started becoming a hot neighborhood with galleries and street art, he had looked at a tract behind Panther Coffee and bought it the next day — only to find there was nothing he could build on it.

 In 2013, he helped write a white paper that laid out three planning and zoning goals: relaxed parking requirements, zoning that would permit flexible uses such as residential and office and increased density for residential development.

 The Wynwood Business Improvement District, which represents more than 400 property owners, worked with the city of Miami and planning firm PlusUrbia and, in 2015, developed a Neighborhood Revitalization Plan, which called for 10-foot-wide sidewalks, the development of studio apartments under 650 SF and the establishment of a design review committee that would consider future projects. Eventually, the city passed eight ordinances that incorporated the changes.”

The changes created value that didn’t exist before. And the magic of those zoning changes is that the value didn’t cost the taxpayers a fortune. Unlike expensive incentives and tax abatements, increasing flexibility (especially for urban infill sites) is the best tool cities have to create value, attract investment and transform neighborhoods. Zoning beats costly incentives my friends.

But success has its challenges too.

While Wynwood has won international acclaim, rents have soared squeezing out the eclectic array of small businesses that made the neighborhood attractive to begin with. Rents are now said to be between $40 and $100 per square foot, that’s very pricey for independents. On nearby Lincoln Road which started losing independents in 1999 rents can be as high as $330 a square foot.

Locally, we have experienced a similar phenomenon.

When I moved to Delray in the late 80s, Atlantic Avenue rents were $6-8 a square foot. Adjusted for inflation that would be the equivalent of $13-$17 a square foot in 2018 numbers. But today rents are $50 to over $100 a square foot downtown. That’s a challenge. Fortunately, the Downtown Development Authority recognizes that there are issues and has engaged Robert Gibbs, a noted expert, to help navigate. The city would be wise to listen to Gibbs’ 43 page analysis which is available on the DDA website. I don’t agree with it all, but it’s fascinating reading.

Urban redevelopment is often the tale of revitalization and then hyper gentrification which ultimately squeezes the charm out of a place. While change is inevitable (even Charleston, S.C. has chain stores up and down its main drag) it doesn’t always have to mean doom and gloom. There are tools—rental assistance (which can be controversial), pop-up store opportunities to test ideas, retail incubators and small liner shops that can help promote authentic and independent uses.

But it isn’t easy. And you’re never done.

That was a mantra back when Atlantic Avenue was making the turn from “Dull Ray” to “America’s Most Fun Town.”

There’s always a chorus of people who will be saying it’s time move on and concentrate elsewhere once you find some success.

 But city building is never a zero sum binary game.

You can do many things at once—and you should: each part of your city deserves its own strategy and investment plan—but you’ll never be totally done. Success is never final and with it comes challenges; many unexpected.

Wynwood is at an inflection point. I would argue that downtown Delray Beach and east Boca is as well. Mind you, these are good problems to have. They certainly beat the alternative which is our “town is dead, what do we do?”

I drove Atlantic Avenue with my dogs on a recent Sunday evening. It was a hot steamy off season night and it was nice to see crowds of pedestrians and diners—people of all ages enjoying the avenue. I noticed some vacancy and I also noticed that our streets could be cleaner. But I also saw vibrancy, hard fought, hard to get and harder to keep vibrancy.

The dogs stuck their heads out the window to check it out and soak it in. It felt good and it’s something we should cherish and work together to keep.

The challenges are not unique, but the opportunities are very unique. Consider me grateful. There’s something cool about never being done. It allows all of us to be part of an ongoing story.